Teaching–it’s a learning process.

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This past week I’ve been trying to figure out how to better engage the students in my classroom. I’ve noticed that the traditional lecture style just isn’t quite doing it for them. Most of the kids don’t have a long enough attention span to sit quietly in their seats and take notes for more than five minutes at a time. Therefore, although the lessons are informative, they’re not engaging and therefore, the students aren’t gaining new knowledge. So, what am I going to do about it? The long and short of it is, I’m going to make math fun.

Yes, I know there are doubters–“math” and “fun” in the same sentence?! This has to be a trick, right? Wrong. Sure math can be challenging and downright difficult at times, but if everything in life was easy, the world would be a pretty boring place. I want to make math relevant to students, cater to their individual interests and build up intrinsic motivation. This will most definitely take some dedication, time and creativity on my part, but I know it can be done.

Some common interests I’ve noticed among my students are sports, music, movies and of course, social interaction. I’m thinking activities which involve group work, movement and manipulatives will be great for them. They will have to be engaged in the activity from start to finish in order to complete the project and move on to the next one.

To ensure that the students are internalizing the main concepts I’m trying to present, I know I will have to utilize evaluations. Whether these are brief quizzes, projects, reflections, etc., I need to check in with my students so I can plan accordingly for the next lesson. I don’t want to move on too quickly if something isn’t clicking for them, because then there’s no foundation upon which they can build. Or, if the pace is far too slow, they’ll get bored and I’ll lose them altogether. Neither of these represent what I want to happen in my classroom.

I am excited to try out some lessons with my students and see which ones really prompt them to become involved in mathematics. I know that not every single one will be a success, but each mistake will only help me tweak and edit the activities until they become something myself and the students are happy with. 🙂

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What? So What? Now What?

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WHAT?: Today I had my “cognitive coaching session” with my TA partner, Scott and professor, Dr. Hasenbank. We discussed our goals for the semester and how we will achieve these goals in the classroom. My two main goals are: 1) Increase student engagement through the use of interactive lessons, and 2) Relate activities to the students’ lives, which involves building relationships with the students.

SO WHAT?: Why does any of this matter? For me, it matters because I truly want to make a difference in these learners’ lives. I want to be the teacher they look back on and say, “Oh yeah, Miss. Rickard. She really cared about us and took time to get to know us as people–not just students. Her class always had us on our toes.” We’ve all had those teachers who looked at their job as, well, just that: a job. They had little personal investment in the lives of their students, and it wasn’t hard to see that. For some students, I may be the only person who cares in their lives, or who takes the time to talk to them. I don’t know what my students bring with them when they walk through my classroom door, but when they leave, I want each of them to know that they matter to me. And I believe in them. That’s why it’s so important to me to find the most engaging, powerful and interactive lessons I can for my students. That’s how I can show them I care.

NOW WHAT?: So how will I go about creating this classroom environment and fulfilling my lesson goals? And how will I know whether or not my efforts are paying off? It’s not difficult to tell whether students are motivated and excited about a project–they ask questions, persist through problems, help one another and collaborate in order to accomplish their goal. I want to put structure into my students’ lives so that they know what to expect (relatively speaking) when they walk through the door. A “bellringer” when they first walk in, then brief instructions for the activity of the day, and finally an “exit slip” to end. This ensures that they’re engaged from the beginning to the end of class. I am also a firm believer in the power of choice. If I can find a variety of lessons/activities which all lead to a common goal or concept, why not let the students choose whichever one appeals most to them? That way, they’ll (hopefully) be more motivated to finish what they’ve started. Finding activities which relate to their interests can be the difference in a student wanting to learn and one refusing to learn. It’s now my job to start researching and discovering what’s out there for my students. I can’t wait!

Overall, this coaching session was incredibly valuable to me as a future educator. I’ve got all of my ideas down on a piece of paper (thanks to my partner!), and I know what I need to do next. Having my goals written down somewhere with a rough sketch of how they can be reached makes them seem attainable for me, which is another strategy I can use with my own students. Oh the things I’m beginning to learn… 🙂

First Full Week

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So I successfully completed my first full week of teacher assisting, and what a week it proved to be. The students made me laugh and smile, they made my heart ache, they tested their boundaries, but most of all they made me realize I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I love spending time in that classroom with those kids. Just watching them and all the crazy things only sixth graders have the courage to do makes me smile and laugh so hard my cheeks hurt. They’re at that oh so glorious age–not quite kindergarteners, not quite mature citizens of society–where the filter between their thoughts and their mouth doesn’t quite seem to work. And most of the time, it’s hilarious. What comes out of their mouth is the honest to goodness truth, which is (most of the time) quite refreshing to hear! However, I’m learning to talk with them about the “not so nice” honest to goodness truths that sneak out every once in a while. They’re learning, though, and trying to figure out who they are–something we’ve all been through and understand quite well.

Okay, back to the stuff that’s made me smile. 🙂 I’ve noticed that no matter what grade level or age, students love to know their teachers’ or other grown ups’ ages. I don’t quite know what the big deal is, but it’s one of the first questions that pop out of their unfiltered mouths. So, the other day a few students asked how old I was. I really wanted to know what they thought, since most people think I’m still in high school. Their first guess? 19. Not as bad as it could have been I guess, but after I said no, the next guess was 16!! 16?! Then 17, 18 and then 27 (that one came out of no where!). This just proves my “no filter” theory. It’s like they don’t take a second to think before they speak–they know I’m in college, and yet 16 years of age was their second guess…oh, these kids. 🙂

It’s these little tidbits that pop up throughout the day, which keep me on my toes and excited to be there with them. I think it’s so important to connect with my students before I try to teach them. How do I know how to engage them if I don’t even know them? I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store for me!

Never judge a book by its cover. {{First Impressions}}

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I’m Kalie, a Grand Valley senior, and this is my semester to really get involved in teaching and see if I like it. Some may ask, “and those past 3 1/2 years of college didn’t count because…?” To you I say, no, they did not. I learned a ton about math, Spanish, myself and life as a grown-up, but I didn’t get the experience I’m getting now. I didn’t get to be the grown-up in the room who was in charge of teaching students and making sure they are well prepared for the grades ahead of them. This semester, though, I get all that and more. And I honestly could not be more excited.

I am placed in a sixth grade math classroom in a very diverse school setting. (I actually have some students who speak Spanish, so I get to practice those skills, too–how cool!!). So far my partner and I are helping with the little things–passing out papers, helping students in the classroom, observing the structure of the classroom, etc. However, we have had opportunities to take students out to the commons to work with them one on one, teach bits and pieces of the lessons throughout the hour and just really get a chance to get to know the students. It’s been a whirlwind first few days (especially with the snow days thrown in the mix), but I can’t believe how much I love these kids and the environment already.

Let me share a little tidbit with you–I have always said that I will NEVER teach middle schoolers. Never. Those were the most awkward years of my life and I know what the students in my classes (and myself) were like. No way do I want to go back there. So you can imagine my “excitement” when I received my placement in a sixth grade classroom. However, in just 5 days (yes, 5 days) my attitude has completely changed. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the students have so much personality, or the fact that we have so much in common (they’re one direction fans, too!), but I can absolutely see myself accepting a middle school teaching position in the future.

It just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover.